Jets need to reduce undisciplined offensive-zone penalties

Special to the Winnipeg Free Press

A strong win against the Vancouver Canucks, who have been playing teams hard to start the season, even with star rookie Elias Pettersson out with a concussion, has made the Jets’ start to the season look a lot more palatable with a 4-2-1 record, but it’s not a stretch to say that they haven’t yet hit their stride as a team.

One of the reasons the Jets have sort of struggled to be their usual dominating selves this season is a familiar problem they’ve run into over the years; taking far too many penalties.

Only the Anaheim Ducks have taken more minor penalties than the Jets have since 2015-16, with 972 to the Jets’ 954, while the average team took just 870. That difference accounts for just over an extra minute per game spent shorthanded, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but in a single game that lack of discipline can decide a game.

Not all penalties are equal though, there are times when taking a penalty is a smart choice to negate a breakaway or a scoring chance that’s too dangerous to allow. Generally, obstruction calls aren’t seen as particularly bad either, because it’s often a defensive effort that results in a trip, a hold, a hook, or interference.

What tends to drive coaches mad though are undisciplined plays like elbowing, roughing, slashing, and high sticking. A team that takes a lot of obstruction calls likely does so systemically, and because they take so many they often get away with more too, refs can’t and won’t call everything.

Unfortunately for the Jets, the penalties they take are often of the undisciplined variety. This season so far they’re averaging two undisciplined penalties per game, good for third-most in the NHL, the same rank as last season, though the Jets took slightly fewer undisciplined penalties per game at just 1.77 in 2017-18.

Strangely, the Jets are among the most disciplined teams in the neutral zone, which means it’s the offensive and defensive zones that are the problem.

The Jets take about an average number of penalties in the defensive zone, though they have been taking a below average number of obstruction penalties, and an above average number of undisciplined ones.  It’s a balance that they’d probably like to correct overall, but it’s not the defensive zone that’s hurting them the most.

In the offensive zone, the Jets have been taking 72% more penalties than the average NHL team, and it’s not just the undisciplined stuff they’re getting dinged for there, they’re getting called for obstruction a bunch as well.

Undisciplined plays are absolutely the bigger problem though; the Jets are currently taking undisciplined penalties at twice the rate of the average NHL team.

The biggest perpetrator of bad penalties in the offensive zone so far this year is Blake Wheeler with two, he also leads with three total offensive zone penalties, while Tyler Myers, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Chiarot, and Patrik Laine have all also taken an undisciplined penalty in the offensive zone.

It’s one thing for forwards to be taking penalties in the offensive zone, things happen when you’re forechecking hard or battling in front of the net, but it’s pretty inexcusable for three different Jets defencemen to take undisciplined penalties in the offensive zone in just a handful of games.

Myers has taken an obstruction call in the offensive zone as well, adding to his team-leading six minor penalties in seven games, an unfortunate start for a player who needs to be much better in order for the Jets to be a cup contender.

The good news is that by the looks of things, it’s only the offensive zone where the Jets really need to focus on being more disciplined, however this is a multi-season problem, with the Jets finishing top-5 in undisciplined penalties in the offensive zone the previous two seasons, and this is a particular weakness for Wheeler, who took 14 undisciplined minors over the last two years in the offensive zone. This could be an area where the captain could lead by example though.

Ultimately the Jets are going to get into their groove and look like the contender they are, but until then, cutting down on these needless infractions is a good area to focus on in order to not make games harder than they have to be.